Royal Fleet Auxiliary

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Royal Fleet Auxiliary
CountryUnited Kingdom
TypeAuxiliary force
RoleReplenishment & Operational Support
Size1,830 personnel[1] 373,800 tonnes
RFA HeadquartersLeach Building, Whale Island, Portsmouth, England, UK
ColoursBlue and gold    
DecorationsQueen's Colour
WebsiteRoyal Fleet Auxiliary
Commodore in ChiefThe Earl of Wessex
Commodore RFACdre David Eagles[2]
Royal Fleet Auxiliary Ensign
Royal Fleet Auxiliary Jack
RFA Jack.png

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) is a naval auxiliary fleet owned by the UK's Ministry of Defence. It provides vital logistical and operational support to the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. The RFA ensures the Royal Navy is supplied and supported by providing fuel and stores through replenishment at sea, transporting Royal Marines and British Army personnel, providing medical care and transporting equipment and essentials across the world. In addition the RFA acts independently providing humanitarian aid, counter piracy and counter narcotic patrols together with assisting the Royal Navy in preventing conflict and securing international trade.[3] They are a uniformed civilian branch of the Royal Navy staffed by British merchant sailors.[4]

RFA personnel are civilian employees of the Ministry of Defence and special members of the Royal Naval Reserve. Although RFA personnel wear Merchant Navy rank insignia with naval uniforms, they are classed as a part of the naval service and are under naval discipline. RFA vessels are commanded and crewed by these sailors, augmented with regular and reserve Royal Navy personnel who perform specialised functions such as operating and maintaining helicopters or providing hospital facilities. Royal Navy personnel who are also needed to operate certain weapons, such as the Phalanx, however other weapons (such as the Bushmaster 30mm cannon) are operated by RFA personnel. The RFA counts an Aviation Training ship/Hospital Ship and landing vessels amongst its assets.


USS Donald Cook receives fuel during a replenishment at sea (RAS) with RFA Wave Ruler.

The RFA was first established in 1905 to provide coaling ships for the Navy in an era when the change from sail to coal-fired steam engines as the main means of propulsion meant that a network of bases around the world with coaling facilities or a fleet of ships able to supply coal were necessary for a fleet to operate away from its home country. Since the Royal Navy of that era possessed the largest network of bases around the world of any fleet, the RFA at first took a relatively minor role.

The RFA firstly became heavily relied on by the Royal Navy during World War II, when the British fleet was often far from available bases, either due to the enemy capturing such bases, or, in the Pacific, because of the sheer distances involved. World War II also saw naval ships staying at sea for much longer periods than had been the case since the days of sail. Techniques of Replenishment at Sea (RAS) were developed. The auxiliary fleet comprised a diverse collection, with not only RFA ships, but also commissioned warships and merchantmen as well. The need for the fleet to be maintained was unambiguously demonstrated by World War II.

After 1945, the RFA became the Royal Navy's main source of support in the many conflicts that the Navy was involved in. The RFA performed important service to the Far East Fleet off Korea from 1950 until 1953, when sustained carrier operations were again mounted in Pacific waters. During the extended operations of the Konfrontasi in the 1960s, the RFA was also heavily involved. As the network of British bases overseas shrank during the end of the Empire, the Navy increasingly relied on the RFA to supply its ships during routine deployments.

The RFA played an important role in the largest naval war since 1945, the Falklands War in 1982 (where one vessel was lost and another badly damaged), and also the Gulf War, Kosovo War, Afghanistan Campaign and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In July 2008, the RFA was presented with a Queen's Colour, an honour unique to a civilian organisation.[5][6][7]


RFA Blue Ensign

Ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary

A - B - C - D - E - F - G
H - I - J - K - L - M - N
O - P - Q - R - S - T - U
V - W - X - Y - Z

Amphibious warfare ships
Replenishment ships
Miscellaneous ships
Commodore Bill Walworth and Commodore Tim Fraser RN aboard RFA Lyme Bay

Ships in RFA service carry the ship prefix RFA, standing for Royal Fleet Auxiliary, and fly the Blue Ensign defaced with an upright gold killick anchor. All Royal Fleet Auxiliaries are built and maintained to Lloyd's Register and Department for Transport standards.

The most important role provided by the RFA is replenishment at sea (RAS), therefore the mainstay of the current RFA fleet are the replenishment ships.[8]

The Wave-class are 'Fleet Tankers', which primarily provide under way refuelling to Royal Navy ships, but can also provide a limited amount of dry cargo. The Tide-class are 'Fast Fleet Tankers' that were ordered in February 2012. The four tankers have been ordered from DSME, South Korea with design support from Britain's BMT Defence Services, the first of which Tidespring entered service in 2017.[9]

Fort Victoria is a 'one-stop' replenishment ship, capable of providing under way refuelling and dry cargoes (i.e. rearming, victualling and spares).

The older Fort Rosalie-class ships provided only dry cargoes. Both Fort Rosalie-class vessels (in addition to the Wave-class vessel Wave Ruler) were in reduced (base maintenance period) or "extended readiness" (unmanned reserve) as of June 2020.[10] The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review stated that three new "Fleet Solid Support" Ships were to be built and bidding for the contract was to start in late 2016.[11] In 2019 this competition was stopped in the face of criticism that the competition permitted bids to build the ships from outside the UK.[12] In May 2020, Defence Minister Ben Wallace stated that the competition was likely to restart in September 2020.[13] However, the start was then delayed to the 'spring' of 2021.[14] The 2021 defence white paper confirmed that both Fort Rosalie-class ships would be decommissioned and eventually replaced by new Fleet Solid Stores Support Vessels.[15] In May 2021, both ships were put up for sale to be scrapped.[16]

The Wave-class, Tide-class and Fort Victoria incorporate aviation facilities, providing aviation support and training facilities as well as vertical replenishment capabilities. They are capable of operating and supporting Merlin and Lynx Wildcat helicopters, both of which are significant weapons platforms. The presence of aviation facilities on RFA ships allows for them to be used as 'force multipliers' for the task groups they support in line with Royal Navy doctrine.

The RFA is tasked with the role of supporting Royal Navy amphibious operations through its three Bay-class dock landing ships (LSD). Typically one Bay-class is also assigned as a permanent 'mothership' for Royal Navy mine countermeasures vessels in the Persian Gulf. The 2021 defence white paper proposed the acquisition of a new class of up to six Multi-Role Support Ships to support littoral strike operations. These seemed likely to replace the Bay-class ships by the 2030s. In the interim, the white paper proposed to upgrade one of the Bay-class vessels with permanent hangar facilities in order to carry out the littoral strike role.[17][18]

The unique support ship in the fleet is the aviation training ship Argus, a converted roll-on/roll-off (RoRo) container ship. She is tasked with peacetime aviation training and support. On active operations, she becomes the Primary Casualty Receiving Ship (PCRS); essentially a hospital ship. She cannot be described as such – and is not afforded such protection under the Geneva Convention – as she is armed. She can, however, venture into waters too dangerous for a normal hospital ship. Argus completed a refit in May 2007 intended to extend her operational life to 2020.[19] As of 2021 Argus was still in service but expected to retire from service in 2024.[20] The 2021 defence white paper did not specifically mention her replacement. However her functions are likely eventually to be taken over by the new Fleet Solid Stores Support ships approved for acquisition in the 2021 defence white paper.[17][18]

The Point-class sealift ships were acquired in 2002 under a £1.25bn private finance initiative with Foreland Shipping known as the 'Strategic Sealift Service'. These ships are Merchant Navy vessels leased to the Ministry of Defence as and when needed. Originally six ships were part of the deal, allowing the MoD use of four of the ships with two being made available for commercial charter, these latter two were released from the contract in 2012.[21] The Ministry of Defence also contracts to secure fuel supplies for facilities overseas. For sometime this requirement was maintained through charter of the vessel Maersk Rapier.[22] The ship was tasked with supplying fuel to the United Kingdoms various naval establishments at home and overseas, as well as providing aviation fuel to RAF stations at Cyprus, Ascension and the Falklands.[22] The MoD chartered the vessel to commercial companies during periods where she was not in use for defence purposes.[22][23] Since the end of the contract for the use of Maersk Rapier, a further contract for the use of another tanker, renamed the Raleigh Fisher, has been secured.[24][25]

As of 2021, there are 11 ships in service with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary with a total displacement of approximately 329,000 tonnes. These figures exclude merchant navy vessels under charter to the Ministry of Defence.


Class Ship Pennant No. Entered service Displacement Type Note
Tide-class RFA Tidespring A136 2017 39,000 tonnes Replenishment tanker [26]
RFA Tiderace A137 2018 [27]
RFA Tidesurge A138 2019 [28]
RFA Tideforce A139 2019 [29]
Wave-class RFA Wave Knight A389 2003 31,500 tonnes Fast fleet tanker [30]
RFA Wave Ruler A390 2003 [31][10][N 1]
Fort Victoria-class RFA Fort Victoria A387 1994 33,675 tonnes Multi-role replenishment ship [32]

Dock landing ships

Class Ship Pennant No. Entered service Displacement Type Note
Bay-class RFA Lyme Bay L3007 2007 16,160 tonnes Dock landing ship auxiliary [33][N 2]
RFA Mounts Bay L3008 2006 [35]
RFA Cardigan Bay L3009 2006 [36]

Aviation Support/Casualty Evacuation

Class Ship Pennant No. Entered service Displacement Type Note
RFA Argus A135 1988 28,081 tonnes Aviation training & primary casualty receiving ship [37]

Ministry of Defence Sealift/Supply Vessels

Class Ship Owner Entered service Displacement Type Note
Point-class MV Hurst Point Foreland Shipping 2002 23,000 tonnes Ro-Ro Sealift [38]
MV Eddystone 2002 [38]
MV Hartland Point 2002 [38]
MV Anvil Point 2003 [38]
MV Raleigh Fisher James Fisher and Sons 2005 35,000 DWT Tanker [N 3][24][25][39]

Rank insignia


Rank insignia of RFA officers are the same as for the Royal Navy; however, the RFA makes use of the diamond used by merchant shipping rather than the loop used by the RN. The rank of commodore is the most senior in the RFA.

RFA Officer Ranks and Insignia
Rank Commodore Captain Chief Officer First Officer Second Officer Third Officer Cadet
Cadet Deck Officer.jpg
Abbreviation Cdre Capt C/O 1/O 2/O 3/O CDT
Analogous RN Rank* Commodore Captain Commander Lieutenant


Lieutenant Sub Lieutenant Midshipman

Department Colours

The RFA uses distinctive cloth to distinguish the branch of its officers. The Royal Navy ceased this practice for most officers in 1955, with the exception of medical and dental officers who are denoted by red and orange cloth respectively.

Deck (X) Logistics and Supply (LS) Marine Engineering (ME) Systems Engineering (SE) Communications

Marine Engineers may also have maroon coloured cloth in place of purple.


RFA Crew Ranks and Insignia
Rank Chief Petty Officer Petty Officer Petty Officer Leading Hand Seaman Grade 1 Seaman Grade 2 Apprentice
Apprentice Rate RFA.png
Branch shown Comms Comms Deck Comms Deck Deck


Officers and Ratings of the RFA wear similar uniforms to the Royal Navy with RFA distinguishing marks.

No. 1 Dress

No. 1 dress

This is the formal uniform worn on ceremonial occasions. For all officers it consists of a double-breasted, navy blue reefer jacket with four rows of two RFA buttons; matching trousers; white shirt and black tie; peaked cap; and black leather shoes. Rank insignia is denoted on the lower sleeve.

For ratings this uniform is a single breasted tunic fastened with four RFA buttons, with flapped chest pockets and hip pockets; white shirt and black tie, peaked cap for Petty Officers and above and a light blue beret for other ratings; and black leather shoes. Rank insignia is denoted on the lower sleeve.

No. 2 Dress

No. 2A dress

Number 2A dress is the formal evening dress for ceremonial dinners; it consists of a navy blue mess jacket with a white waistcoat (black cummerbund for female officers) with miniature medals. 2B is "mess undress" for other mess functions, and is worn with either a black cummerbund or navy blue waistcoat and miniature medals. 2C, "red sea rig", is worn for informal evening wear on board ship; it consists of a white short sleeved shirt, worn with shoulderboards, without medals and with black trousers, black shoes and a black cummerbund.

No. 3 Dress

This is worn all year round for general duties. It consists of a white shirt with rank insignia on the shoulders, and appropriate headgear. For officers 3A dress includes a long-sleeved shirt and tie, while 3B includes a short-sleeved shirt worn with hard shoulder boards. 3C is the same in all respects as 3A but with the addition of a navy blue woollen jersey. This is the same as for Officer's No. 3 dress but with the relevant rate insignia and beret. Junior rates are only issued with short-sleeve shirts and are not issued with ties. Thus No.3 dress is divided into 3B (without jersey) and 3C dress (navy-blue jersey worn over the shirt with the shirt collar out). There is no equivalent of 3A dress for junior ratings.

No. 4 Dress

Number 4 dress is the working uniform of the RFA. It is referred to as Royal Fleet Auxiliary Personal Clothing System (RFAPCS); it consists of a navy blue fire-retardant jacket, navy blue baseball cap, navy blue stable belt, navy-blue fire-retardant trousers, dms boots, navy-blue T-shirt and an optional navy-blue microfleece. Number 4R dress is the same only without the jacket and with an optional baseball cap. RFAPCS is distinguished from its RNPCS counterpart by the RFA blue ensign and 'ROYAL FLEET AUXILIARY' tape replacing the white ensign and 'ROYAL NAVY' tape worn on the left arm and left chest pocket respectively. Junior ratings may also wear an RFA badged baseball cap in this order of dress, whilst undertaking courses at Royal Navy establishments.

No. 5 Dress

Number 5 dress is the collective category for all specialist working uniforms. They are worn as required for duties.

Recruitment and training

The RFA recruits ratings either directly from industry (or where they are suitably trained to allow direct entry), or as apprentices whilst undertaking training.

Officers are recruited in one of three ways:[40]

  • direct from industry (or where they are suitably trained to allow direct entry)
  • via the RTO (rating-to-officer) programme
  • as cadets

All new officers take part in a 10-week Initial Naval Training Officers (INT-O) course at BRNC Dartmouth that is designed to familiarise new officers to the RFA and develop leadership skills.

List of Commodores Royal Fleet Auxiliary

Commodores David Eagles and Duncan Lamb at the transfer of command of the RFA in 2020

The post of Commodore of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (COMRFA) was created in 1951, known as Commodore RFA and Deputy Director Royal Navy Afloat Support since 2020, is the senior officer of the RFA.[41] The following people have served as COMRFA:[42][2]

  • 1951–1954: Stanley Kent
  • 1954–1955: William Browne
  • 1955–1957: Thomas Card
  • 1957–1962: Thomas Elder
  • 1962–1964: Albert Curtain
  • 1964–1966: Eric Payne
  • 1966–1968: Griffith Evans
  • 1968–1971: Joe Dines
  • 1971–1972: Henry L'Estrange
  • 1972–1977: George Robson
  • 1977–1983: Samuel Dunlop[43]
  • 1983–1985: James Coull
  • 1986–1989: Barry Rutterford
  • 1989–1994: Richard Thorn
  • 1994–1999: Norman Squire
  • 1999–2003: Peter Lannin
  • 2003–2008: Robert Thornton
  • 2008–2013: Bill Walworth
  • 2013–2015: Rob Dorey
  • 2015–2020: Duncan Lamb
  • 2020- David Eagles[2][44]

See also

Lists of ships operated by or in support of Her Majesty's Naval Service

Related articles


  1. RFA Wave Ruler is in reduced readiness as of June 2020.
  2. RFA Lyme Bay is forward deployed as command vessel of 9 Mine Countermeasures Squadron, operating from HMS Jufair in Bahrain.[34]
  3. Vessel provides fuel provisioning for UK military facilities.


  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "New head of Royal Fleet Auxiliary". Royal Navy (in English). 2 September 2020. Retrieved 12 September 2020.
  3. Royal Navy
  4. Royal Navy
  5. Journal of the Flag Institute, Issue 128, p. 20[permanent dead link]
  6. Gunline, April 2008, p. 7 Archived 10 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  7. Gunline, Sept 2008, p. 1 Archived 10 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  8. Britain's Modern Royal Navy, Paul Beaver, Patrick Stephens Limited, 1996, ISBN 1-85260-442-5
  9. "UK accepts RFA Tidespring after ten-month delay". NavalToday. Archived from the original on 26 January 2017. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  10. 10.0 10.1
  11. "2015 SDSR" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 November 2015.
  12. Lye, Harry (6 November 2019). "UK MOD puts brakes on Fleet Solid Support ship tenders". Retrieved 12 May 2020.
  13. "Britain to restart competition for fleet solid support ships, but who's allowed to bid?". Retrieved 19 August 2020.
  15. "First Sea Lord's Message on Integrated Review". Royal Navy. 23 March 2021. Retrieved 29 March 2021.
  17. 17.0 17.1
  18. 18.0 18.1
  19. BBC News: Refit of navy ship RFA Argus ends,
  21. Strategic Sealift Service Archived 29 November 2016 at the Wayback Machine,, 2 Sep 2013
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Bush, Steve (2014). British Warships and Auxiliaries. Maritime Books. p. 50. ISBN 978-1904459552.
  23. Hired Tankers Hansard Written Answers – House of Commons Archived 26 October 2016 at the Wayback Machine,, 27 October 2003
  24. 24.0 24.1
  25. 25.0 25.1
  26. "RFA Tidespring (official webpage)". Royal Navy. Archived from the original on 17 November 2017. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  27. Navy Lookout [@NavyLookout] (2 August 2018). "First of the Tide class joins Twitter… Welcome @RFATiderace Being dedicated into the fleet at formal ceremony in Portland this morning" (Tweet) (in English). Retrieved 14 June 2021 – via Twitter.
  28. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 6 March 2019. Retrieved 5 March 2019.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  29. "Final Tide-class tanker joins Royal Navy fleet". Retrieved 31 July 2019.
  30. "RFA Wave Knight (official webpage)". Royal Navy. Archived from the original on 18 April 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  31. "RFA Wave Ruler (official webpage)". Royal Navy. Archived from the original on 18 April 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  32. "RFA Fort Victoria (official webpage)". Royal Navy. Archived from the original on 7 May 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  33. "RFA Lyme Bay (official webpage)". Royal Navy. Archived from the original on 18 April 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  35. "RFA Mounts Bay (official webpage)". Royal Navy. Archived from the original on 18 April 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  36. "RFA Cardigan Bay (official webpage)". Royal Navy. Archived from the original on 18 April 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  37. "RFA Argus (official webpage)". Royal Navy. Archived from the original on 18 April 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 38.3 The Royal Navy Handbook, 2003, Ministry of Defence, page 104
  40. "Royal Fleet Auxiliary Logistics (RFA) Training & Development". (in English). Archived from the original on 20 January 2019. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  41. "New Commodore Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Assistant Chief of Staff Afloat Support". Royal Navy (in English). 3 October 2013. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
  42. "RFA Commodores". RFA Historical Society. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
  43. "Commodore 'Black Sam' Dunlop". The Daily Telegraph. 18 August 2008. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
  44. "NEW HEAD FOR ROYAL FLEET AUXILIARY – NAVY'S CRUCIAL SUPPORT IN WAR AND PEACE". Royal Navy. HMS Victory. 30 October 2020. Retrieved 31 October 2020.


The Royal Fleet Auxiliary – A Century of Service. Adams/Smith. London 2005. Chatham Publishing. ISBN 1-86176-259-3.

External links